Imagine the uproar if the Internet was around when Tony Schwartz created his famous “Daisy Ad,” which helped Lyndon Johnson thump Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential race. The blogosphere would have been ablaze. The pitchforks would have been out on cable TV.
Simplicity was the genius of Schwartz, who died Saturday in his Manhattan apartment. Daisy showed a little girl counting aloud as she plucks stems from a flower. That image dissolves into a man counting down the time before a nuke is detonated. LBJ’s voice is heard warning about the need to “make a world in which all of God’s children can live, or go into the dark. We must either love each other or we must die.” A commentator then warns that the stakes are too high to stay home on Election Day. Bingo!
Schwartz’ ad never “attacked” Goldwater. It didn’t imply that it would be dangerous for the country to have a hawkish Goldwater in the White House with his finger on the button. Daisy didn’t even mention Goldwater’s name.
The ad, which ran once, stirred the emotions of people who felt that Goldwater was not the best person to lead the nation shortly after the Cuban missile crisis. That fits nicely with Schwartz’ advertising philosophy. The New York Times reports online today that Schwartz often said “advertising should not be to introduce viewers to new ideas, but rather to bring out ones that were already present, lurking subconsciously in the mind.”
Some blame Schwartz for paving the way to negative advertising. They say Daisy opened the door for Willie Horton and the Swift Boat crowd. Those ads are crude compared to Daisy. Schwartz didn’t buy the rap about negative ads. He told MSNBC in 2000 that Daisy is the “most positive commercial ever made.”
Daisy still strikes a chord as indicated by the nearly 170K people who have viewed it on YouTube. You can bet either McCain or Obama would gladly have welcomed Tony Schwartz to their media teams. Schwartz was 84.